I suppose it’s rather obvious to say that one couldn’t partake in the metamorphosis from a member of a quasi-folk chart topping band to a politically cynical bluesman without having an interesting story.
That (rather specific) assumption is certainly at least true of one Benjamin Darvill, aka SON OF DAVE, who is set to bring his foot-tapping, electronically-driven, hyphenated-adjectivesque blues stylings to the Masque this October.
Raised in Winnipeg, Canada, an area he describes as, “very vibrant, but with brutally cold winters as the second coldest city in the world,” Darvill joined a group of like-minded musicians in 1988 to form Crash Test Dummies at the age of 18 as “a summer job.” The band went on to be a great deal more than that for Darvill and are now most famous in the UK for their hit song, the beautifully haunting Mmm mmm mmm mmm. He chose to leave the Dummies in 2000, saying of the decision: “When Crash Test Dummies ended [for him] I was turning 30 and I thought, ‘That was a good run but I’m finished working for someone else now, I’ll go back to my own tastes’. I was making some very weird recordings over those years and biding my time.”
This ‘biding of time’ didn’t last very long at all as he released his first solo album, the magnificently named B.Darvill’s Wild West Show, through his own record label whilst still working in the band. The album showcased an entirely different style to his recordings with the Dummies however, presenting the work of a man markedly moulded by the huge Blues community in Winnipeg. After finally parting ways with his band mates (on amicable terms) he released a further three albums inventively titled 01, 02 and 03 (“Journalists can’t count past three,” he claims) which all defined his trademark ‘cotton-slave guitars over drum machine beats’ sound.
During these years Darvill had also changed his surroundings, having taken up residence in the place he now calls home, London. He had been living there with his former band mates but, after they chose to up sticks further down the line, he simply stuck around. He said: “I stayed because I fell in love with it. I like the extremes of rich and poor, old and new and brilliant and stupid. London is very dynamic and, whether they admit or not, it’s part of Europe.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, he soon began contributing pieces for well respected London music magazine Stool Pigeon. His mixture of cock-eyed humour and heart-on-sleeve political views have since helped make him the owner of the magazine’s longest running column, which is particularly amusing considering it started as a method of interview avoidance. “To be honest, people like you would call up asking for interviews from some magazine and sometimes I’d say ‘Just write the questions down and I’ll get to it’. I would write out something that I thought was really good and send it to them and some of the editors would say ‘Hey, let’s just publish this rather than a Q and A.’ So, rather than waiting for them to come to me, I just started writing and found a magazine to publish it. Stool Pigeon was the only dirt rag that would have me.”
Not only are these columns funny, they contain political overtones which can often hold a fascinating insight into the views of a man looking at our government ‘from the outside.’ When I quiz whether these politicised leanings ever make it into his songs however, the answer is a firm no. “I don’t put a lot of it into the lyrics; I have a philosophy of doing a simple job and getting it done with the minimum amount of red tape, hassle or investment. It’s a hand-to-mouth existence and if I can pick up the phone and get a gig for a few hundred, or these days, a thousand quid [at this point he genuinely let out a “WAHOO!”], I’ll do it, come home; that’s a simple job. I don’t need to import something that was made in Bangladesh and sell it at an extortionate rate and then keep my bank accounts offshore. I keep it simple, if that’s a Socialist thing or if that’s some kind of Anarchist thing I don’t know.”
It’s the last part that particularly resonates with me, the fact that Darvill is so aware of the simplistic ethos he wishes to represent. He knows not only want he wants to be now, but in the future too, and that is real. When he says, “I’ve always know that life is very long and that I’m more aiming toward the man I’m going to be when I’m 60,” I can genuinely believe that, given the eclectic and fascinating nature of his tale so far. It’s this kind of saga which permeates all great Blues laments and, well, if there’s one genre that suits the aged…